Using Codes of Conduct in Parenting Coordination
Parenting coordination can be difficult work. The people for whom parenting coordination is a cost-effective alternative to litigation, because no one provides this sort of service for free and parenting coordination gets expensive quickly, tend to be overly invested in their dysfunctional relationship with the other parent; they usually prefer the all-or-nothing gamble of conflict over the humiliation of compromise, and happily see every disagreement as the perfect hill upon which to die.
I understand that resolving disputes about family law matters is trying and capable of triggering strong emotional responses, especially when a dispute concerns children and decisions about how they are parented. While it is almost always better to resolve a dispute with the informed, willing consent of the parties, the chances of this sort of outcome are badly undermined when these stressors and responses result in parties becoming angry, inflexible and intolerant, or result in them saying or doing things to purposefully hurt, wound or punish the other party. What makes parenting coordination so challenging isn’t just resolving disputes in the middle of a knife fight, but the certainty that we too will become the target of our clients’ ire and indignation when an all-or-nothing gamble is lost.
I continue to struggle developing ways to promote better behaviour on the part of parenting coordination clients, as you’ll see in my two most recent posts, “Expedited Decision-Making in Parenting Coordination” and “Enforcing Agreements and Determinations in Parenting Coordination.” Although I admit that there’s a smidgen of rational self-protection lurking somewhere in the weeds, there’s another, less selfish reason to pursue this goal: civil, courteous behaviour makes the parenting coordination process faster and more efficient, and the quicker disputes are resolved, the less time children are exposed to their parents’ conflict. The fact that faster processes are generally less costly doesn’t hurt either.
My most recent thinking on the subject involves asking the parties to enter into an agreement in which they commit to certain minimal standards of deportment and decorum, reproduced below. This, I hope, will help to establish some fairly broad but important expectations and boundaries at the outset of a file, rather than addressing problems as they arise, one by one.
I have no idea whether a code of conduct will work to reduce conflict, rather than simply handing cantankerous clients a shiny new cause for complaints. However, I’ve begun to trial the concept on incoming files and hope to have some idea of its efficacy in a few months. I’ll provide updates through addenda to this post. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts on the problem of conflict in parenting coordination and your comments on my draft code of conduct.
Code of Conduct: Parenting Coordination
I, ______________________________ , understand and agree to the terms set out below.
1. My children and the well-being of my children are, and will remain, my most important priorities. I will do my best to put their needs and best interests ahead of my own when I make parenting decisions, when I deal with their other parent, when I resolve disagreements about parenting decisions with the other parent, and when I participate in the parenting coordination process.
2. I will follow the terms of my children’s parenting plan, whether their parenting plan is described in a court order, an arbitrator’s award or a separation agreement, carefully, cooperatively and in good faith.
3. I will participate in the parenting coordination process honestly and sincerely, and as cooperatively as possible. In particular, I will
a) follow the terms of our parenting coordination participation, and
b) follow the terms of all agreements the other parent and I make in the parenting coordination process, as well as the terms of all determinations the parenting coordinator makes,
carefully, cooperatively and in good faith.
4. For so long as the other parent and I are involved in the parenting coordination process, I will not make complaints about the other parent
a) to their friends and their family members, their employer, their union or employee organization, their colleagues and coworkers, their governing body, their school, their religious and community leaders, their landlord, or their insurers,
b) on the internet, in social media or to news media, or
c) to better business bureaux and trade organizations, government tribunals and agencies, regulatory organizations, or social and service organizations.
5. For so long as the other parent and I are involved in the parenting coordination process, I will not, except in cases of genuine urgency, make complaints about the other parent to the police or to child protection authorities without first speaking to the parenting coordinator about my complaint.
6. I will be polite, civil and courteous in all communications to the other parent and to the parenting coordinator. I will be business-like, brief, informative and factual in my communications with the other parent and the parenting coordinator. In particular, I will not
a) use language which is abusive, insulting or accusatory,
b) use language which is derisive, mocking, sarcastic, scornful or contemptuous, or
c) make threats, including threats of emotional, physical or financial harm, threats of beginning or resuming court proceedings, or threats of complaints to government tribunals and agencies and regulatory organizations
in my communications with the other parent, the parenting coordinator, and any other professionals involved in the parenting coordination process.
7. I will not withhold time, communication or contact with the children from the other parent except with good and urgent cause. I will not use or threaten to use the withholding of time, communication or contact with the children as a strategy in the parenting coordination process.
8. I will respect the privacy of the parenting coordination process. In particular, I will not
a) discuss the other parent, disagreements about parenting decisions, the parenting coordinator, the parenting coordination process and the outcomes of the process on the internet, in social media or with news media,
b) discuss disagreements about parenting decisions, the parenting coordinator, the parenting coordination process and the outcomes of the process with my children,
c) send communications I make or receive in the parenting coordination process to anyone other than the other parent, my lawyer, my parenting coach, my counsellor or therapist, and the parenting coordinator,
d) record any communications or meetings in the process without first getting the consent of everyone involved to the recording of the communication or meeting,
e) allow anyone, including my children, to be present during any meeting in the process, or to see or hear any part of any meeting, or
f) allow anyone, including my children, to read the memoranda, agreements and determinations prepared by the parenting coordinator.
9. I will promptly produce any information, records and reports relating to myself, my children, my children’s parenting plan and the parenting coordination process that the parenting coordinator may request from time to time.
10. I will promptly sign any authorizations and releases that may be needed for the parenting coordinator to communicate with and obtain information from other people that the parenting coordinator may request from time to time.
I commit to follow both the letter and the spirit of this Code of Conduct for so long as the other parent and I are involved in the parenting coordination process.
I have read and understood the Communication Guidelines posted at www.boydarbitration.ca/communication-guidelines.
Signature and date.
You can download a more nicely formatted version of this draft code of conduct from my website. As always, the content of this post can be copied, saved, reproduced and repurposed without the need to obtain my permission.
Please provide your comments on my draft code as replies to this post.
Thanks for this great post JP! It can only be a helpful thing for the parents to focus on these behaviours right at the outset. Just wondering what you think about adding a commitment to supporting meaningful child participation and voice as issues arise – keeping developmental capacity and child choice in mind of course. Love your thoughts on this. Thank you!
Thanks for your comment, Kari; you raise an important point. I do address the children’s voice in my participation agreements, which, among other things, allow me to speak with the children from time to time as well as the other people involved in their lives. (This authority is something I regularly take advantage of, especially when the children’s wishes are becoming obscured by a fog of contradiction and self-interest.)
Parenting coordination files, however, are often so poisoned by conflict that the children become weapons in their parents’ dispute. Not only are their actual statements and preferences frequently misrepresented and distorted to support a parent’s goals, they are at risk of being manipulated by one parent so as to damage or impair their relationship with the other. As a result, I am skittish about highlighting the importance of hearing from children in a document like a code of conduct for fear of aggravating children’s triangulation in their parents’ dispute; maintaining a balance between hearing the children’s views and minimizing their direct participation in their parents’ conflict is something else I struggle with!
Thanks JP. Great points. It is a very difficult challenge indeed. The irony is that children caught in a high conflict parental battle are often the ones who need to be heard most. What I hear from kids is that, sometimes, in our effort to protect them we are also silencing them which ultimately hurts their wellbeing. Could it be that in these cases we (legal professionals and parenting coordinators) need multidisciplinary collaboration -thinking mostly of therapists/counsellors/advocates for the kids? Talking to kids needs a special skillset so we either develop it or reach out for help… How do you involve others in your PC practice? Thanks so much. Kari
I agree, Kari, it’s just that these children need to be heard in a careful manner that shields them from manipulation and protects them from triangulation in their parents’ conflict, and the resources to do so safely and well aren’t always there.
As it happens, I’ve regularly worked with mental health professionals as collaborators in my parenting coordination processes. I have, at times, been able to work with parents’ counsellors functioning as parenting coaches, split the parenting coordination role into determination-making (me) and consensus-building (a mental health professional), and worked with counsellors specifically tasked with supporting the children’s wellbeing. The options are endless for those inclined to creative approaches, providing that the funds exist to pay for them.
Most parenting coordinators’ participation agreements also contain clauses allowing them to speak to the professionals involved in the children’s lives and to consult with lawyers, mental health professionals and medical professionals as needed. Parenting coordination was originally developed as an explicitly interdisciplinary practice model, and I think that most folks who do this work are aware of the advantages of the approach.